Zakros Gorge or Gorge of the Dead
The Zakros Gorge is a small gorge in East Crete, which starts a little after the village of Ano Zakros (Upper Zakros) and ends at the village and beach of Kato Zakros (Lower Zakros).
Zakros Gorge is both beautiful and accessible, although its other name, the “Gorge of the Dead” may seem rather worrying at first if you don’t know its history.
It wasn’t called that because hikers leave their bones there, but because the ancient Minoans used the caves in its steep cliffs to bury their dead. It must have been a great honour for the dead, for people to risk their lives getting them up the sheer walls of the gorge to lay them in their final resting place, a cave in this imposing gorge.
The footpath through the gorge to Kato Zakros is important for another reason apart from its ancient history and its scenic landscape with the many caves. It is the last section of the European E4 path, which starts at Portugal, crosses the Mediterranean countries of southern Europe, and traverses Greece from north to south and Crete from west to east, to end at Kato Zakros.
Zakros Gorge on the map
Entrances to Zakros Gorge
You can enter Zakros Gorge by two entrances:
The first entrance is shortly after the village of Ano Zakros, 38 kilometres south of Sitia.
The second entrance to the Gorge of the Dead
The second entrance is 4 kilometres from Ano Zakros and is quite a shortcut. From here it’s about two hours’ walk down to the exit, shortly before the Μinoan Palace of Zakros and the beach at Kato Zakros.
Note. The second entrance is at a large open space on the tarmac road leading to Kato Zakros. There is plenty of room for cars to park and a bus shelter.
Be careful, though, as the signpost you see is misleading: don’t take the dirt track that starts behind the signpost and heads uphill, parallel to the gorge, but the track that leads downhill a few metres after the bus shelter.
There is a signpost here, but it’s fallen over and you probably won’t spot it unless it’s been replaced by then.
Zakros Gorge in summer
The gorge is presents no difficulties in summer. The first steep slope may seem a bit scary, but in fact there’s no danger as long as you follow the path carefully.
After the 15-minute descent, you will find yourself at the bottom of the gorge. Follow the riverbed, which is completely dry in summer.
There are distinctive blazes to guide you and it’s a pleasant walk for young and old alike. There are no working fountains in Zakros Gorge, so make sure you take plenty of water with you.
Zakros Gorge in winter
Zakros Gorge is harder to walk down in winter after heavy rainfall, as the river will be full of water and you’ll have to jump from stone to stone to cross it several times.
The rocks are slippery and unstable.
If you’re not particularly good at balancing on rocks in a river, your best bet is either to take your shoes off and wade through each time (very tedious), or to wear special hiking sandals so you can walk through the water without difficulty.
The exit of the Gorge of the Dead
1. Zakros Gorge, 2. Gorge Exit, 3. Archaeological Site
The exit of the gorge is near the village of Kato Zakros. Turn left and take the dirt track, which leads in a few minutes to the Zakros archaeological site, the famous Μinoan Palace of Zakros. Make sure you’re here before 3 p.m. to visit the site (open daily except Mondays).
Kato Zakros has a wonderful beach for a refreshing swim to wash the dust off, while you can enjoy a delicious meal and a cold beer or glass of local wine in one of the little tavernas.
How to get to Zakros Gorge
By bus from Sitia to Ano Zakros. There are daily morning buses and you can get off either at Ano Zakros or at the 2nd entrance to the gorge. Ano Zakros is 38 kilometres from Sitia, 1 hour’s drive away.
To return from Kato Zakros to Sitia, in summer the last bus leaves at 4 p.m.
If you drive to Ano Zakros by your own car or a rented car, leave it either in the village (ask the way to the 1st entrance to the gorge), or at the parking area at the 2nd entrance to the gorge, 4 kilometres after Ano Zakros.
From Kato Zakros you can return to your car by bus or call a taxi from Ano Zakros (tel. 28430 61380, applied in 2010).